There was a time when Shean Donovan seriously wondered whether he'd ever play a single game in the National Hockey League.
No wonder, then, that the veteran Ottawa Senators forward can easily shake off the delay in reaching a career milestone that is a true testament to dedication and perseverance.
When Donovan hits the ice Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., it'll mark the 900th game of a career that has spanned 14 seasons and taken him to seven NHL teams. Yes, it's way beyond anything the former Ottawa 67's star ever imagined.
"No, I never thought I'd play 900 (games)," Donovan admitted earlier today. "First of all, when I was growing up, I never thought I'd play in the NHL. Then you play a few games in the league and you think 'if I could ever play 100 games, that would be incredible.'
"It's taken a little longer, the last 10 games, than I would have liked but it'll be exciting to do that."
Donovan was on track to hit the 900-game plateau before the end of January before being forced to sit out eight games with a lower body injury suffered Jan. 18 in the Sens Skills competition. In the meantime, teammates Dean McAmmond and Daniel Alfredsson
both hit the milestone before him. Still, he'll revel in the moment when it arrives just the same.
"This is a dream job, to be able to play in the NHL," he said. "To be able to play 900 games ... it's great and when I look back on it, I'll be happy I got a chance to do that.
"Before the lockout, I remember thinking if I could get to 1,000, it would be unbelievable. I don't know how many guys have gotten there. I would be a great milestone. But I've just been trying to get to 900 games here and the last two weeks have been a struggle.
"For sure, this is something I'll be proud of 100 per cent."
An even bigger milestone moment will arrive Tuesday in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche, when defenceman Jason Smith plays his 1,000th career game.
Meanwhile, the Senators hope to run their season-high winning streak to four when they face off against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night (8 p.m., no TV, Team 1200). Since head coach Cory Clouston took over the team last week, it has moved to a more up-tempo style that the players have clearly warmed up to quickly.
"We've got a lot of guys who can skate and a lot of offensive guys," said Senators forward Dany Heatley. "(Clouston's) system is a lot more geared toward creating turnovers and a lot more aggressive. Once we get those turnovers, we're going the other way and trying to do something with them.
"This is a dream job, to be able to play in the NHL. To be able to play 900 games ... it's great and when I look back on it, I'll be happy I got a chance to do that. For sure, this is something I'll be proud of 100 per cent." - Shean Donovan
"Overall, I think (the improved play) comes from that aggressiveness and getting some chances off that and scoring goals. I think everything builds off that. If you look at all aspects of our game, I think they've gotten better. A lot of that is confidence."
Added centre Jason Spezza
: "We're a skating team and we're not playing as passive as we were earlier in the year. When you get a chance to play an up-tempo forechecking game, you want to make sure you have success doing it so it can stay that way."
Clouston believes it's the best fit for the personnel he has on hand.
"This is our strength on this team," he said. "This is how players enjoy playing. You still have to coach to the strength of your team and we feel this gives us the best chance to win every night, the way we're playing right now."Saturday update
Despite feeling a "stinger" on a shot in the pre-game skate, Brian Elliott (7-3-2) will make a seventh straight start ... Forward Nick Foligno
left the morning skate early and Clouston said he'll be a game-time decision ... The Senators' road trip wraps up with games Monday in Nashville against the Predators (8 p.m., TSN, Team 1200) and Tuesday vs. the Avalanche (9:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) ... Ottawa returns home to face the Vancouver Canucks next Thursday at Scotiabank Place.